Publication Date: May 10, 2010
Bryan Batt is a Broadway actor and played Sal Romano on the award-winning show, “Mad Men.” In She Ain’t Heavy; She’s My Mother Bryan Batt tells the story of Gayle Batt through key moments in his own life. From his debut in pink silk at the Spring Fiesta Parade in New Orleans to running through the streets with a wheelchair on 9/11, Batt relays his experience of life in the south and as the son of a truly strong southern woman.
I saw this book on an endcap at the library and am a big fan of the show Mad Men so thought I’d pick it up. The dust jacket paints it as the story of Bryan Batt, which it’s really not. It’s the story of Bryan’s mother, Gayle, and the way she’s shaped his life and the lives of everyone around her. If there’s one thing any reader will walk away with after reading this book, it is the knowledge that Bryan Batt deeply loves his mother. He eloquently paints a picture of who she is and who he became because of her innate qualities.
The language of the novel is flowery and dramatic but so warm and humorous that it’s hard to hold it against the author. Batt goes to the hairdresser with his mother in one sequence and says,
I soon felt the instinctual desire to explore and was discovered later with perm rods up my nose, imitating the walruses we had recently witnessed at the Audubon Zoo.
This passage is typical of not only the humor but the prose of this memoir.
Not all moments are happy. When Gayle talks with her family about needing chemo and her decision regarding the procedure; the scene is so vivid and perfect to the character we’ve come to know. I thought to myself while reading this memoir that when I either stop laughing or crying, I’ll be sure to think the prose is too much.
The highlight of the way the memoir is written comes on page 167 when Batt’s mother is visiting New York on 9/11. If you do nothing else, go to the Amazon copy and search in the book for this. It’s a beautiful, if brief, telling of the event and how the people of New York pulled together in the face of tragedy.
Batt does use a lot of creative licenses. There are some things he would simply never know, but that did not in any way bother this reader. He could not have been a party as an early teenager to a call that his mother gets from his father’s girlfriend and the ensuing scenes after. There’s no way he could know, but he doesn’t idealize his mother, he stays true to the Gayle that we’ve been reading and have come to know. Batt is an actor, and he shows us his flair for the dramatic from the very first memory he claims to have which is in infancy.
This is not a story of Batt growing up gay in Louisiana, as advertised on the jacket. He does have moments, like ordering gay porn magazines by pretending to be his mother, but that’s not the overriding theme of the book. This is truly the story of Gayle Batt conveyed in a perfect love letter of a memoir from her son.
She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother is a quick and warm read and I recommend it highly for those who like humor, memoirs or quirky characters.